On Gunnison: It’s personal

Late-season fishing on the Gunnison is worth cold

A late-November afternoon finds few takers for the Gunnison River above the Pleasure Park. Stable water flows and mild weather usually combine for more anglers, but the long, holiday weekend had other distractions.

It’s good to take the long view of late-fall fly fishing, particularly keeping in mind the solitude inherent in the activity. Sunday found few disturbances on the Gunnison River, although a few trout were attracted to small midges and tiny nymphs.

There are more than humans interested in the health of the Gunnison River fishery. As flows decline, raccoons reveal their fleeting presence with tracks in the mud.

On a warm, late-November afternoon, with a declining sun casting long rays across the Gunnison River, a visitor found the river uncommonly deserted.

The anglers one would expect to see upstream of the Pleasure Park on a sunny day were absent, perhaps victims of a turkey-and-all-the-trimmings overload two days prior, or maybe they were busy succumbing to the temptations of Black Friday marketing.

For several reasons, late-fall fishing on the Gunnison is never as crowded as in the warmer months.

Shorter days, cold and sluggish trout and the foreboding sense that winter is about to close the river in its icy grip give anglers pause in their watery pursuit.

Plus, there is the matter that standing in cold water on a 45-degree day requires some forethought as to dressing properly before leaving home.

The age-old outdoors adage that “It’s better to have it and not use it” never rings so true as during a long day with 40-degree water lapping at your knees and shadows creeping into your vision.

Fall fishing takes on a more personal, meditative aspect, much more so than the slashing days of summer when other anglers, crowded tight as freckles on a redhead, cry “Fish on” as trout rise to their fly as if being paid.

But rarely is fishing on these temperate days of November as personal as it was Sunday.

One usually finds a few vehicles in the parking lot where the North Fork River is waded and perhaps that many and more across the Gunnison at the West Bank trail head at the foot of the road from Peach Valley.

But cars and anglers were at a premium Sunday, and a walk up the river trail revealed only five anglers scattered along three miles of river.

Plenty of room for everyone, especially with a midge hatch and the resultant rising trout as further attraction.

Water levels, one factor too few anglers take into consideration, haven’t changed for two weeks, ever since the Bureau of Reclamation increased flows from Crystal Reservoir to 650 cubic feet per second on Nov. 17.

With the end of the major irrigation season, the Uncompahgre Valley Waters Users have stopped taking their rightful share of the river, and for now the bureau’s main concern is lowering Blue Mesa Reservoir enough to avoid winter icing problems upstream of that impoundment.

Trout never like the ups and downs of the river that are common during the warmer months, and by now most of the fish seem settled into their winter depths, which generally are unaffected by small fluctuations in flows.

Perhaps most aware of the flow changes are the nonhuman predators — the raccoons, great blue herons, and the infrequent mink — all of which leave their tracks along newly exposed river bank in the continual search for food.

One other thought: When writing about offseason fly fishing, I often get asked, “But isn’t it cold?” and “How do you know what to use?”

Truthfully, there is no offseason for fly fishing (proper clothing warning here), and if you’re new to late-fall, early winter fly fishing, several of the local guide services operate year-round.

These talented anglers are out on the water nearly every day, and they can ease your entry into the intricacies of cool-weather fly fishing.

Call it an early and much-deserved Christmas present to yourself.


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